Header image for news printout

Press briefing note on COVID-19

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Rupert Colville

Location: Geneva 

Date: 3 April 2020

Subject: COVID-19

After the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet's last week urged governments to reduce overcrowding in prisons in order to prevent catastrophic rates of COVID-19 infection, we are encouraged to note that a number of countries have indeed been taking action on this front.

Iran for example has increased the number it is releasing, at least on a temporary basis, to around 100,000 prisoners – some 40 percent of the entire prison population. Yesterday, Indonesia announced it would be releasing some 30,000 prisoners convicted of minor crimes, including drug use, and we understand India and Turkey are similarly considering or in the process of releasing a large number of inmates.

Other countries have also been announcing prisoner releases of varying numbers, including of specific at-risk groups such as pregnant women, people with disabilities, elderly prisoners, those who are sick, minor and low-risk offenders, people nearing the end of their sentences and others who can safely be reintegrated into society. We urge States to release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views.

We stress that with respect to people fairly convicted of serious crimes recognized under international law, or prisoners who might pose serious risk to others, they should only exceptionally be considered for temporary release from custody during the course of the pandemic.

We continue to urge all countries to review who is being held and to take measures as soon as possible to ensure the physical distancing necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 becomes feasible. 


For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville - + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org or Jeremy Laurence - + 41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org or Liz Throssell - + 41 22 917 9296 / ethrossell@ohchr.org  or Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / mhurtado@ohchr.org

Tag and share - Twitter: @UNHumanRights and Facebook: unitednationshumanrights